Room Committee on Indian Affairs,
United States Senate,
Washington, D. C., December 9, 1884.The committee met at 10.30 a. m., pursuant to call of the Chairman , and Senator Vest, upon invitation, addressed the committee in explanation of the scope of the inquiry contained in a resolution presented to the Senate by himself, which passed the Senate on December 3, 1884.
Mr. Vest. This resolution instructs the Committee on Indian Affairs—
To inquire what leases of lands in the Indian Territory, or Indian reservations, for grazing or other purposes, have been.made by the tribes of Indians therein, the number of acres embraced by each of said leases, the terms thereof, and the persons, corporations, or associations named therein as lessees. Also, that the committee inquire as to the circumstances under which said leases were made, and the means used for obtaining the same, and whether said leases are authorized by existing legislation, or are conducive to the welfare of the Indians in said Territory or Indian reservations.
On the 9th of December, 1883, Senator Walker offered a resolution, which was adopted by the Senate, directing the Secretary of the Interior—
To furnish, for the information of the Senate, copies of all documents and correspondence in his office relating to leases of lands in the Indian Territory to citizens of the United States, for cattle-grazing and other purposes
On January 12, 1884, the Secretary of the Interior sent to the Senate a mass of papers, which were printed as Senate Ex. Doc. No. 54, making 160 pages, together with a map showing the leases. The leases as shown by that document aggregate 3,117,880 acres. In addition to this 3,117,880 acres, 6,500,000 have been leased from the Cherokees, and several hundred thousand acres from the Osages and other Indians since that time. Here is a copy of the Cherokee lease, showing that it is a lease within the legal meaning of the term. (See Documents.)
The Secretary of the Interior makes a distinction between the right to graze cattle and a lease. The statute uses the language with particularity, of license to graze upon Indian lands, and that license could only be for one year under the rules and regulations governing the reservation. In this paper the words indicate a legal lease from these Cherokees :
That the said party of the first part, for and in consideration of the rents, covenants, and agreements hereinafter mentioned, reserved, and contained on the part and in behalf of the party of the second part and their successors in trust and assigns, to be well and faithfully kept and performed, doth, by authority of law in him vested as principal chief, by and' through an act of the national council, &c., lease for grazing purposes only—
And all the way through the word "lease"is used. This lease is for five years, and that with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes is also for five years.
The Chairman . Does the lease give the exclusive use of the land?
Mr. Vest. Of course. This lease is made between Bushyhead, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and the directors of the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association, and embraces—
All and singular, the unoccupied lands of, and belonging to, the Cherokee Nation ⚫ ⚫ ⚫the said portion herein leased for grazing purposes, containing 6,000,000 acres of land, more or less, and lying east of the one hundredth meridian.
Mr. Cameron. What rent do these parties pay for the land?
Mr. Vest. One hundred thousand dollars a year, in two equal semiannual payments. In this document (Senate Ex. Doc. 54) the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs speak of these transactions as leases, and not as permits to graze. But they are leases with exclusive power to control the land—nobody else has a right to go upon it. This brings us in front of the proposition whether a power to lease exists, or whether it is a permit. (See "Documents"for S. Ex. Doc. 54.)
To ascertain the number of acres in each lease accurately it would be necessary to send for the agents of the several tribes. The Interior Department has a loose way of ascertaining this. In fact, they don't know; their maps are not accurate. The only way to get at the figures would be to send for the agents of the several tribes. As to the circumstances under which these leases were made, I know nothing personally about the matter, and I make no individual attack. I do not believe in Indian reservations as a system. I believe these immense reservations are a source of more trouble to the country than anything else. An Indian is nomadic, and if he has a horse and a gun and ten or fifteen millions of acres he roves everywhere. In Montana, where I was last year, that is the great defect in the system. If they did not have a horse they walked, moving aimlessly over the country like savages, and as long as they have reservations they will continue to do it.
The next question is whether the Secretary of the Interior, or the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, should exercise the supervisory control over this matter. To-day we have the anomalous condition of affairs in the Indian Territory of immense reservations, where notwithstanding this supervisory control over the reservations these leases are made (I am not saying whether it is right or wrong), without any control of the Secretary of the Interior at all. He says he will not approve of the leases, but he will protect the lessees. He does not propose to have anything to say about the terms of the leases. That is one of the questions for the committee to inquire into and determine upon. I am free to say that I think, as I have said before, it is an outrage to allow this country to lie there, unproductive to anybody, by continuing the system of reservations, to which I am opposed. If the reservations are to continue, then we ought to let them make their own bargains and stand by them, or have the Secretary of the Interior overlook them, and pass upon them, and protect the Indians. I do not mean to say that it is best to let them rent these lands, but it ought to be done fairly and justly. Some end should be put by Congress to the complaints that are made.
I do not blame any lessee for going and getting the best terms he can, and I do not know, personally, anything about the way in which these leases are obtained. I have received letters over and over again stating that the leases were improperly obtained. They 'are certainly enormous and in the nature of monopolies. I have been to the Secretary of the Interior with constituents of mine who have leases in the Territory, and he would say that he would have nothing to do with the matter. Here are men occupying exclusively large bodies of land. If the land is to be used for the benefit of the Indians, these leases should be fair to both parties, and the Interior Department should see to it.
As to the manner in which these leases have been made, I do not know. I have looked through Ex. Doc. 54, and on page 22 there is a letter of James Charley, senior chief of the Peorias, to Mr. Price, in which he says :
Our agent takes a very active part in trying to get our people to sign this lease' and we are afraid you would grant this lease.
Then the protest of Ed. H. Black, chief, and others of the Confederated Bands of Kaskaskias, Peorias, Piankeshaws, and Wea Indians, against the lease of the same lands. Also, in the same document, page 32, there is a petition and protest of widows and mothers of orphan children belonging to the Ottawa tribe; and they say, in speaking of the agent:
We think he will be partial, for the main object here is to get lands for grazing purposes, and he has a father and brother-in-law in the stock business, and we think that he has something to do with the Baxter Springs Stock Association himself.
The names of the widows are given, and they charge that leases have been made without consulting the tribe at all. On pages 44 and?5 of the same document is the petition of the Pottawatomies against the lease of their lands, and the statement of their former chief that he was intimidated into signing the lease. Also, on page?8, the petition to the Secretary of the Interior of the Osages, charging that improper means were used to obtain a lease from them, and offering to pay to their own nation 3 cents per acre per year, in advance, for the use of said lands for grazing purposes, rather than surrender them to cattlemen; they also, in their protest against fencing in their land, say that the proceeds of the lease went to a few persons only. I also read in the Senate a letter written by Mr. Augustus E. Ivey, who edits a newspaper at Vinita, in the Indian Territory, in which he charges that the lease of the "Cherokee Strip" was obtained by fraud and corruption, and claims that he can produce the proof.
The Chairman . What is the first step you propose?
Mr. Vest. Well, that is for the committee to determine.
The Chairman . Since this report was sent to the Senate, 6,000,000 acres of the "Cherokee Strip"has been leased
Mr. Vest. Yes, sir.
The Chairman . And you propose that we first call on the Secretary of the Interior to supplement that report.
Mr. Ingalls. The resolution defines our duties. A formal request on the Interior Department will do; and after that we can proceed to a further inquiry.
Mr. Vest. I have here a list of witnesses who live there and profess to have knowledge upon the subject [submits list]. I also have the names of a number of Cheyenne and Arapahoe chiefs who made a statement at Fort Reno. Stone Calf, Little Robe, Spotted Horse, Sitting Medicine, Club Foot, White Horse, Big Jake, White Shield, Bob-Tailed Bull, Little Chief, Crow, Big Black Dog, and Stone. They are all chiefs, and some of them have sent papers to Mrs. Belenti, at Fort Reno. Capt. Luther Pike is here to-day; he has been all through the Territory, and can give the committee information upon the subject.
As to the legal questions involved in this matter, I suppose the committee do not want to hear me. The sections of the Revised Statutes which give the law upon the subject are 2116 and 2117. And there is a difference of opinion as to whether the power exists to make these leases. Section 2116 is as follows :
No purchase, grant, lease, or other conveyance of lands, or of any title or claim thereto from any Indian nation or tribe of Indians, shall be of any validity in law or equity, unless the same be made by treaty or convention entered into pursuant to the Constitution. Every person who, not being employéd under the authority of the United States, attempts to negotiate such treaty or convention, directly or indirectly, or to treat with any such nation or tribe of Indians for the title or purchase of any lands by them held or claimed, is liable to a penalty of one thousand dollars. The agent of any State who may be present at any treaty held with Indians under the authority of the United States, in the presence and with the approbation of the commissioner of the United States appointed to hold the same, may, however, propose to and adjust with the Indians the compensation to be made for their claim to lands within such State, which shall be extinguished by treaty.
Section 2117, under which the power to lease is claimed to exist, reads as follows :
Every person who drives or otherwise conveys any stock of horses, mules, or cattle to range and feed on any land belonging to any Indian or Indian tribe, without the consent of such tribe, is liable to a penalty of one dollar for each animal of such stock.
That obviously refers to the simple permission to graze. Whether these instruments are permits or leases of course can be determined.
This is all I have to say. I have no personal feeling or interest in the matter, and I am not attacking anybody or any corporation. It is for the interest of the lessees and of all parties concerned that this matter should be settled. That Territory now, as Captain Pike knows, for he has been there, and I have letters to show, is in a terrible condition on account of this very thing. Many of the Indians claim that the power to lease does not exist, and that the money does not go to them. On the other hand, the cattlemen are fencing in large tracts of land, and Congress is confronted with the question whether these leases are to be made for all time or not.
That is all, gentlemen, I desire to say. I want to lay before the committee this paper from Fort Reno. It is from an Indian woman up there. It is a specific statement made by her, but I do not know anything about the facts :
the way of the leasing of Indian lands works
The following is a copy of a letter addressed by a Cheyenne Indian woman to the Secretary of the Interior. It explains itself. The writer was known as "Cheyenne Belle," but is now Mrs. Belinti, wife of a former soldier of the Fourth United States Cavalry :
"Fort Reno, Indian Territory, May 19, 1884."To the Secretary of the Interior,
"Sir: After I have tried my best to have justice done me without troubling you, I come to the conclusion that it is impossible, and, therefore, I beg your pardon for intruding on you, pleading dire necessity as the cause. I am a Cheyenne Indian; have been going to school, can read and write, and wear white women's garments. I have had often opportunity to listen to the counsel given to my people by white men, who claimed that it was the will of the Government that we should work for ourselves, farm, raise cattle, and live like white men. Having this advice in my mind, and the future of my children at heart, I induced my husband to go with me to the Washita, on our reservation, where, in September of 1882, I laid out a claim, made every necessary arrangements to procure a stock of cattle, and spent a part of the winter cutting pickets for corral and house and other improvements. Early iu the spring I reported the facts to Agent Miles, but I was almost thunderstruck when he exclaimed, apparently very angry, 'You must not stay at the Washita; you must have no claim there; go in the vicinity of the Cantonment; there are plenty of good claims there.' 1 could not understand the agent's action in this, as at the same time there were a number of white men having claims and cattle on the Washita River; among others one Seger, an employé of the agency; one Hopkins, of the Prairie Cattle Company; one Clark, an employé at Fort Reno, and others. Mr. Seger, when we moved to the Washita, told my husband that if we persisted in taking that claim, Mr. Agent Miles would make it kind of unpleasant for us. Why it should be so I do not know ! I was under the impression that Mr. Seger had no right there whatever, but it seems I was mistaken, as he is still there, although no longer in the employ of the Indian Department, having made, it is commonly reported, an independent fortune since he came to the Cheyenne Agency, carrying all his possessions in a gunny-sack. Mr. Miles's prohibition to occupy my claim discouraged us very much, and we finally thought bust to follow his advice and locate on the south side of the North Fork of the Canadian River, about 15 miles below the Cantonment. This was in May, 1883, when we commenced again to make improvements, and my husband was just making preparations to go to Texas after some cattle when, to our great discomfiture and astonishment, and to the prejudice of our work, Agent Miles sent the Indian police after him with orders to come at once to his office. In obedience to his summons we started to the agency, and found Mr. Woodward, a son-in-law of Agent Miles, in charge of the office. He accused us in very impolite language of holding cattle for a white man, and collecting pay for it. He was talking of a herd which belonged to one Torey, or his son, a concern keeping large herds of cattle, formerly on the Washita, under one Clark's name, and now in Oklahoma. This was explained to Mr. son-in-law, and was found to be correct, when Clark was sent for. That seemed to change the situation very much, and we could depart without being snubbed any more for that time. Coining back to our claim on the Canadian, one Bickford. a white man from Leavenworth, who had a large herd of cattle there evidently with the agent's and his son-in-law's consent, told us that we could not stay there, but had to move, because he, Bickford, had a better right to that part of the reservation. Under these circumstances I concluded to postpone getting the cattle, as I was afraid, being surrounded by big herds of white people, who all seemed to be on very good terms with Agent Miles and hie son-in-law, my small herd would soon be absorbed by the big ones, and as it did not look like having any rights compared with the white strangely, I did not know what to do. About that time a circular issued by Agent Miles, and dated May 22, 1883, came under my notice. It referred to the lease made by him of 3,000,000 acres of our reservation to Fenlon, Hunter, Evans, and others, at 2 cents an acre per year, and closed as follows :
"The leases or agreements above referred to embrace all the lands the Indians of this agency desire to lease for grazing privileges, and at their request, and in conformity with the instructions and letter above referred to, notice is hereby given to all persona who are not parties to said leases or agreements and who are holding cattle or other animals on this reservation, under any pretext whatever, whether it be in the lands embraced in said lease or not, to at once remove said cattle or animals from and beyond the limits of this reservation.'
"This gave me a little hope again, as I expected that the whites would be made to remove their cattle from my claim, but nothing of the kind. To the contrary, rumor reached me soon after that' Mr. Bickford,' above-mentioned, had made a lease with Agent Miles and George Bent for a large tract of land on the North Fork of the Canadian River including my claim. Afterwards I learned that Agent Miles had induced 'Bickford' to let one George Reynolds, formerly an Indian trader at the Cheyenne Agency, have the lease, or they probably got Agent Miles's promise for that land in partnership. I then wrote a letter to the agent, stating that I and my children wanted to keep the claim and that we did not want to lease. This letter was not answered. Everything being so unsettled, I was afraid to do anything and left for Fort Reno, where my husband could get work. I have marked my claim in the mean time by putting up stakes with my name on them. Some time ago Mr. Reynolds told me that he would make a survey of the lease, and that he would pay me for my claim what it was worth. My husband saw Mr. Reynolds to-day, and was told that he had leased the land and that it was his. Please tell me what to do."
I recommend that you read at least the testimony of Charles H. Eldred and James W. Hamilton. It appears to me that these two gave the most historically relevant testimony.
You just have to love these old cowboys. Although some of them were business men their first job was raising cattle. Most of their time was spent out on the ranges towards that end. Keeping records and books of the association came in a FAR distant second, or maybe even third. A hand shake and a persons word were often good enough. A "record" was often a hastily scratched note on a scrap of whatever paper happened to be handy. Apparently, it drove the Senators crazy. They just couldn't understand. It's most apparent in the testimony of John A. Blair.
Along with the two men mentioned above the men that gave the most pertinent testimony were:
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